Study: 6% of US Seminarians Have Experienced Sexual Harassment, Abuse

Notre Dame’s McGrath Institute for Church Life and the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University conducted the study.

(photo: Shutterstock photo illustration)

new study has found that 6% of U.S. seminarians have experienced some form of sexual harassment, abuse or misconduct; another 4% said they might have experienced misconduct but were not sure, while 89% reported none of those incidences.

The survey comes amid heightened scrutiny of seminary culture in the wake of revelations of grooming behavior and years of sexual harassment by high-profile Church figures such as former cardinal Theodore McCarrick and retired Bishop Michael Bransfield.

Of those surveyed, 84% of seminarians believe their administration and faculty take reports of such misconduct very seriously, according to the announcement accompanying the report.

The University of Notre Dame’s McGrath Institute for Church Life and the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University collaborated to produce the study, which the researchers presented at the 2019 Religion News Association conference last weekend.

Respondents were enrolled at 72 seminaries and houses of formation across the U.S. The study included responses from about two-thirds of the 2,375 seminarians invited to participate.

Sixty-eight percent of respondents are studying to serve as diocesan priests, and 28% are studying to serve as religious priests or brothers, according to the study. Just 2% of those surveyed live off-site.

Of those who said they have or may have experienced sexual harassment, 80% pointed to a fellow seminary student or religious in formation as the alleged perpetrator.

Three in four seminarians reported that sexual harassment, abuse or misconduct are “not at all a problem” at their current seminary or house of formation. Nearly nine in 10 said there is none or little talk or rumors of sexual promiscuity at their seminary. 

Fifty-nine percent said they are “very aware” of the policies and procedures of their seminary or house of formation concerning sexual harassment, abuse and misconduct, with 29% saying they are “somewhat aware.”

The researchers’ report pointed out that although the rates of self-reported sexual harassment in their study are lower than other national studies of male college students, other studies have found that a majority of respondents in those studies report being victimized by women — in addition, several other national studies asked men to report sexual harassment that occurred before they entered college.

“Viewing the studies as a whole, it is hard to make a comparison to our current study, as our study includes sexual harassment as well as violent victimization, is mostly at an all-male colleges, and virtually has only male perpetrators,” the researchers wrote.

“The percentage saying they have experienced abuse in our present study does not seem significantly high or low compared to the other studies reviewed.”

The survey also asked seminarians for their suggestions on how to make the seminary environment more safe.

Answers included having more explicit definitions of sexual harassment, abuse or misconduct, to avoid ambiguity about whether a behavior meets the criteria; frequent discussions and workshops on living chastely and celibately; a simple, anonymous way of reporting incidents of sexual harassment, abuse or misconduct; and a policy of reporting and investigation of sexual harassment, abuse and misconduct being handled by an outside source not directly connected to the seminary.


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